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Hillary’s tactics show it is now harder to deliver last-minute hits that cannot be contested. And, that’s good for democracy. 1/9/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in LateHits.

As legendary Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley once noted, the center-left mainstream media has a history of working with Democrats and their allies to deliver last-minute hits on conservatives, which he dates back to the campaign against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. This included the 1992 weekend-before-the-election leak of the Iran-Contra indictment of Caspar Weinberger and others, perhaps handing-over the Presidency to Clinton from Bush I, who had fought back to within 1 point. More recently, we witnessed the 2000 weekend-before-the-election exposure of a 24-year-old Bush II drunk-driving arrest that surely cost him the popular vote, and almost cost him the election.

But now, Hillary Clinton seems to recognize that even the weekend before might not be enough anymore given that the blogosphere can contradict and swat-down a story within hours (e.g. Dan Rather’s Bush II story on the Texas National Guard based on forged documents). Perhaps that’s why she waited until the last 24 hours before the NH Primary to conduct what were arguably manipulative stunts that the pundits and the blogosphere were just gearing-up to shred – the genuineness of her tears and the implausibility of two men standing-up at one of her appearances holding a sign that said “Iron my Shirt.” The fact that it is now harder for candidates like Clinton to slip-in late hits like these that go uncontested is a very positive step for those who believe the people are best served when they have heard both sides of the story.


1. C. LeVine - 1/9/08

Thank you for noting the likelihood of “iron my shirt” fraud. Presumably, the men were Arkansas state troopers. It is “good” to see the influence of ol’ Bill again. No one can slander or pull a stunt like him.

2. Deborah Moran - 1/9/08

Perhaps I am missing something, but after the wet eye event I seem to recall a tidal wave of negative publicity, with many pundits saying it showed her campaign unraveling, hardly a stunt designed to improve publicity. In any event, it should not take a change in demeanor from someone who has been unfailingly poised to get people to look at her credentials. If it does, whose fault is that?

3. Steve Boriss - 1/9/08

Deborah, Well, it seems to me that the video helped her with single females. It also seems to me strangely convenient that the only time we have seen tears is when it was needed as part of her strategy, and that through her tears she was making self-serving statements about how she was sad for the country. We’re all entitled to our opinions. I’m skeptical.

4. John - 1/10/08

Is it too implausible to speculate that the negative reaction could be anticipated? It strikes me as fairly predictable that at least some prominant figures would respond with cynicism. I have heard (though not verified) that John Edwards lost a lot of votes on the last day and many went to Hillary. It also seems quite likely to me that an ordinary voter would be thoroughly unimpressed with critics like him pouncing on a few tears as evidence of major character flaws.

As to the ‘Iron my Shirt’ business, that it was staged is an interesting theory. While it’s true that leaving it to the last day prevents it from being discovered before the New Hampshire results, surely there still remains a huge incentive to expose it – The Clinton’s engineering a sexist protest would still be a massive story now. I guess I’m asking Steve if he predicts a Dan Rather style exposure in this case, and if not, why not?

5. Steve Boriss - 1/10/08

John, Recognizing that we are all now in an area of speculation, here is my gut reaction. I think that Hillary was in a must-win situation in NH and the risk of exposure after the election was worth taking for her. It’s nearly impossible to prove whether or not her tears were genuine, although I personally find it implausible to believe they were, given the Clintons’ background, the exposure of previous plants, the words she was saying while tearing-up, the fact that this had never happened before, and the unlikely coincidence that her tears aligned with the strategy she most needed at the moment. Since impossible to prove either way, this reduced the risk of negative publicity for “fraud” from the tears. The sign would be easier to expose later, but I can imagine something like this orchestrated without traceability back to her. The Clintons, after all, are the people who, unfortunately, developed something called the “war room.” I think journalists might want to engage in a little self-reflection as to why their predecessors made such a big deal about Nixon’s “enemies list,” while laughing-off the “war room.” Could things like this be one of the reasons the field has lost so much credibility?

6. John - 1/10/08

Steve, Perhaps my cynicism about Clinton’s tears was too subtle 🙂 The only thing I’m positing (partly in reference to Deborah’s comment) that’s any different is that I’m speculating that part of the intention in playing it emotional could be to deliberately foster an overplayed negative attack. The sensible way to respond if you are an opponent is to say nothing and treat it as pretty much a nothing story (which I think Obama did). The dumb thing to do is to aggressively attack her and sneer that this shows she isn’t tough enough to be Commander in Chief (Edwards).

OK I see that Hillary’s back was to the wall, putting her in more of a mood to take a risk. Though if it’s untraceable to her in any case why would it be riskier for it to go out earlier? Is your idea that a weekend’s online speculation in the blogosphere would be just too damaging?

7. Steve Boriss - 1/10/08

John, I think you are right that it is very risky for the other candidates to accuse Hillary of tear-fraud, which would risk a backlash from the apparently many who believe it. They could be accused of lacking compassion or picking on a woman (BTW, note the similarity in possible tactic to Rick Lazio merely approaching Hillary with a piece of paper in a debate, a turning-point in her NY Senate race).

A couple of extra days in the blogosphere is a lifetime — lots more alternative opinions spread around much more broadly. Much more risk, much less possible benefit for Hillary. I’m not sure we’ve heard the end of the tear thing, especially because much of the public still seems to believe she is unlikeable, cold, and manipulative.

8. Deborah Moran - 1/11/08

I just checked back and saw the discussion. My point was that if tears are capable of getting people to pay attention to a candidate, whether or not they are real, that is a failure of both the media for playing it up, and of the voters for making that such an important part of choosing a candidate. It is not a failure of Hillary Clinton. As a supporter, I think it is entirely possible that so many people voted for her because her debate performance and question and answer sessions in New Hampshire showed her to be an extremely well prepared candidate. Those of us who support her can also see her very controlled public persona as well as anyone else. We just don’t see that as a flaw. As a matter of fact, it could serve a President quite well.

9. Steve Boriss - 1/11/08

Deborah, I do not see this as a failure of anyone. The founding principles of this country give each of us the right to make our own judgments based on our own preferences and whatever information each of us as individuals thinks is necessary, under the belief that our collective judgment is better than those of a few. Similarly, I believe that the press has a right to focus on whatever they think is important or interesting and, ideally, there would be sufficient diversity in the press so that many different angles are placed into focus — a problem now with the limited number of outlets and their pack-like behavior, but soon not to be a problem because the Internet will deliver a multitude of voices competing in a freewheeling marketplace of ideas. Personally, I do see Hillary’s behavior as flawed because, rightly or wrongly, my gut reaction is that the tears were fake and I distrust politicians who I believe are manipulative. You may believe the tears were real and either that she was not being manipulative or that politicians must be manipulative to do their their jobs well. The system grants each of us personal dignity and the right to our own views, and respects our collective judgment.

10. Deborah Moran - 1/11/08

I don’t believe that politicians must be manipulative, but I do think being able to keep a poker face in certain situations is important, and I also think the ability to compromise is absolutely necessary, something which the American people now think is a problem. Yes, people do have the right to look at superficial qualities rather than whether someone’s policies would help the general public, but I don’t think that serves us well. Mrs. Clinton has been able to work well with Republicans in the Senate who once felt about her the way you do. That is the kind of leader I am looking for.

11. Steve Boriss - 1/11/08

Deborah, Certainly that’s your right to feel that way and I would not try to talk you out of it. I think the country is healthier when people make-up their own minds and are willing to engage in debate. This is something that once was a key feature of the news business in America, but is now lacking. One of the main purposes of my blog is to unite people all across the political spectrum, from far left to far right, on this idea.

12. Deborah Moran - 1/11/08

I agree, and am hoping for more healthy debate. Unfortunately, judging from the comments I see regarding this election, we are still far away from the utopian world Obama hopes to bring about in which we all discuss differences reasonably. Some issues are just plain emotional and will cause disagreement no matter what. But I would like to see folks argue the issues instead of engage in character assassination of those they disagree with. Thanks for the opportunity on your blog.

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